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  Student Loneliness: Curating Experiences and Breaking Silences


   Department of Geography

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  Prof Richard Phillips  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

WRoCAH funded Collaborative Doctoral Award between Department of Geography, University of Sheffield, and The Science Museum, London.

This project builds upon co-produced research in which students and academic staff at the University of Sheffield worked with curators at the Science Museum (SCM) in 2021, exploring students' experiences of loneliness during the pandemic. Outcomes of this collaboration included acquisition by the SCM of archival material and objects relating to student loneliness during lockdown, and an academic paper describing this project.

What is the project about? Young people are susceptible to loneliness but tend to be good at covering it up. Problems of loneliness, with consequences for mental and physical health, are increasingly recognised among older people. This project will contribute new knowledge about the relatively neglected phenomenon of youth loneliness by investigating experiences of students in higher education during and since the COVID-19 pandemic.

This project promises methodological and conceptual advances. Through innovative use of material methods, it will examine loneliness as a physical (embodied and material) rather than purely cognitive phenomenon. This work will bring new dimensions to museum practice through innovative community engagement and participatory methods. It will advance the theory and practice of curating and collecting, archiving and preservation, object and collections discovery.

Research questions

1. How do students in higher education understand and describe experiences of loneliness?

2. How can artefacts - (a) SCM holdings in the Collecting COVID-19 scheme; and (b) additional objects, collected by participants - be used to spark memories and stories about loneliness?

3. How can museums use and improve participatory research methods to interpret and develop their collections and public engagement?

4. What new dimensions do arts-led, participatory methods involving objects offer the study of intangible subjects such as loneliness?

5. How can students’ experiences of loneliness be extrapolated to develop broader understandings loneliness among other young people and across society? How do we propose to do this research?

The project has a flexible methodology, which is capable of answering the research questions above while leaving the student some freedom to adapt the work to benefit from their experiences, interests and initial skills. The student will divide their time between Sheffield University and the SCM, with joint supervisions alternating between these settings and online. The methodology is designed to investigate a stigmatised subject sensitively, non-intrusively and ethically and involves:

● Working with and adding to the SCM Collecting COVID-19 holdings on student loneliness.

● Working with undergraduate students in Sheffield to participate in workshops, in which to use objects as catalysts for conversations about loneliness.

● Curating exhibitions on students’ loneliness to display online and in physical university settings. The exhibitions will elicit stories, memories and experiences of students' loneliness.

● Use notes from workshops, interview transcripts, elicited stories, object labels and photographs of objects to produce academic outputs.

● Conducting public engagement activities through the Science Museum.

Lead Supervisor Professor Richard Phillips Contact email [Email Address Removed]


Anthropology (2) Education (11) Geography (17) Sociology (32)

Funding Notes

Studentships for doctoral research are 40 months in duration for full-time study. Awards are subject to satisfactory academic progress. Awards must be taken up in October 2024; no deferrals are possible. Awards will comprise fees at Research Council rates and a maintenance grant (£18,622 in 2023/24). The grant pays the fees at the Home/UK rate; international students are, however, eligible to apply for this Studentship and the difference between the Home/UK and International fee will be met by the University of Sheffield for a successful international applicant.

Where will I study?